Facing challenges: "Water Resources and Food sustainability in the 21st century"

Ghislain de Marsily, Emeritus Profesor of Applied Geology and Hydrology at the University Pierre and Marie Curie, Paris, France and member of the French Academy of Sciences presents in English a conference on "Water Resources and Food sustainability in the 21st century".
The lecture is introduced by the Honorary Consulate of France in Puerto Rico in collaboration with the Departement of Environmetal Health-Graduate School of Public Health, University of Puerto Rico and the Alliance francaise in Puerto Rico on April 11, 2012 at 9:00 AM. Here an interview with the Professor de Marsily.

JPEGet-Toile: Mr de Marsily, you are going to give a lecture at the University of Puerto Rico, on April 11, on the issue of “Water problems in the 21st Century and on food resources sustainability”. Could you give us a brief outlook of your presentation?

Mr de Marsily: It is obvious that the link between water and food resources is strong: on average, we consume 95% of the water for the alimentation, if we include the use in the agricultural process and irrigation. Water for domestic use is about 4% of the total consumption. The real issue here is the quality and drinkability. Water spent in the industrial activity is about the same volume as the domestic one.

These are the issues I want to raise.

  • e-Toile: Over-consumption of natural resources, climate unbalance, endangered species, impoverishment of biological diversity: our planet is in danger say the scientific voices again and again. It seems to me that we finally reach, particularly in Europe, a state of disenchantment in this debate. While focusing on science, biology and geology, I would like to know if a distinguished professor like you are has any good news for us ?

Mr de Marsily: On top of the threats you are listing, I will add the population growth. From 7 billions in 2011, we should reach 9 billions in 2050, an increase of 25%. If you consider that quality of life and patterns of alimentation are evolving, resulting in an increased consumption of natural resources, it’s clear that a global conservative management is a priority. But it is possible, and I would like to quote Antoine de St Exupéry: “we can’t predict the future but we can shape it”. Therefore, building a sustainable, reasonable and positive world is up to us, for ourselves and for future generations.

We can act and prevent or stop the causes of danger. First of all, I think we should curb the demographic pressure. Other civilisations managed to do it before us when it was understood that available resources would not offset human kind needs. Giving birth to a child when resources to feed him are not there is a crime. Then, a better way of sharing limited resources is necessary.

We have to learn how to be more frugal in order to stop wasting so much. Do you know that, in the developed world, 30% of the food prepared and sold goes directly to garbage bin without being used? This is an outrage when you are aware that one human being out of 7 (1 billion people in 2011) doesn’t have enough to eat on a daily basis. If we could share food more equitably, no one would starve today. Next, we have to cut our consumption of animal products. Developed countries overuse them, poor countries don’t have enough.
Next, we need to preserve arable land, against urban sprawling and bad governance in agricultural processes. We know how to do it, we can do it.

Arable land is one of scarcest resources on the planet. It is urgent to do something about it.

  • e-Toile: Finally, biodiversity (tropical forest, natural habitat, specific and tiny ecosystems like land hedges, groves, marshes, etc) is a very precious treasure because if we end up destroying it completely, we will never be able to remake it. But how to do this ?

Mr de Marsily: First we need to increase public awareness about this reality and incite the population to act responsibly. Frugality can be applied to food, energy consumption, transport, habitat, etc. If we make these efforts, we will be able to avoid the catastrophic consequences. It is not too late to act but we just can’t give up now !

Then, acing these issues, we have to think globally and not only at a national level. In that respect, the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a perfect example of what has to be done. I look forward to the United Nations Conference in Panama, on April 16, aiming at creating an international organization for biodiversity protection, the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), or, later on in June, the Rio Conference for a new International Organization on Environment, matching the World Trade Organization.

We need to set up world governance bodies for our planet.

During your rich professional career, you have probably witnessed firsthand the consequences of human activity on nature. What is your assessment of scientific progress and, if you had the power to do it, which scientific discovery would you erase from history?
Scientific advance is nothing else than the discovery of one of the laws of Nature. Whether in physics or in life science, it is a matter of understanding and being able to reproduce the complex mechanism of the world as we observe it.

In that sense, a scientific discovery is not an invention but more of an new “intelligent” approach or Nature. Even if we could erase this type of discovery, as you suggest, it would be still enshrined in the Laws of Nature and should come out again eventually. Therefore, I think it is vain to try to oppose scientific progress.
But utilization always follows a discovery in ways that can be dreadful to me: the issue is how human kind takes advantage of his knowledge. Let me quote Rabelais here: “Science without conscience is the soul’s perdition”. Einstein said more or less the same thing. We know for a very long time that human king is capable of the most horrific crimes, destructions and barbaric acts. It is, for example, the invention of rapid-fire battery that put an end to Mongol Invasions. Gun is a dreadful invention, coming from gun powder that Chinese used for fireworks.

Well, it saved us from the Mongols. Our capacity of self-destruction never stop increasing and we know that life on earth is at the mercy of numerous diabolic applications of new discoveries.

Our only hope to survive is wisdom, humanism, consciousness of each and everyone of us not to use the self-destructive means at our disposal. In other words, it is education for all, understanding of what is a civilization. Democratic process helps putting in charge wise leaders. But it implies that wisdom has reached voters too. As a matter of observation, we can see the positive evolution here. Hence my optimism for the future.

But let me reply to your question anyway: I would propose to erase from History the invention of concentrating all power in the hands of one soul, the idea of the homeland savior, who is going to protect us all and bring back past glory. Looking back at past centuries, the largest catastrophic events came not from scientific discoveries but from power taken by one: Napoleonic wars, Hitler, Staline, Mao; even if, in some ways they served their own people.

This would be my whish…

Wednesday April 11, 2012 at 9:00 AM
University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus,
Main Buliding Dr. Guillermo Arbona
1st floor Amphitheater B-103
Free of charge
Information: Alliance française Puerto Rico: 787 722 3174/5434
University: 787 758 2525 ext 2928/1469

Last modified on 04/04/2012

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